The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme is the largest engineering project in Australian history. The scheme is a network of dams, tunnels and aqueducts serving two primary purposes; distribution of water for irrigation, and generation of electricity. Naturally a project of this scale had significant effects on the local culture and environment.

The scheme was begun in 1949 by an act of Federal Parliament, partly to serve the power needs of the new capital Canberra. It was completed in 1974 at a cost of approximately $AUS1 billion. The scheme relies on water diverted from the Murrumbidgee and Murray river systems, and consists of 17 large dams and nine power stations.

The scheme was always ambitious, with generators designed to be able to provide enough power to bring up the grid for south-eastern Australia after a complete shut-down. Fifty years after it's design, it still generates 3.7 gigawatts, or 17% of the power requirements of south-eastern Australia.

The scheme resulted in increase flow to the west of the Snowies, improving the arability of the land. Some areas in the south of NSW would have been unsuitable for agriculture without the scheme. The scheme assists in agricultural production of $AUS1,542 million per annum.

The large storage capacity allows the flow to be controlled, ensuring consistent flow during droughts. The 1.2 teraliters/year released by the scheme can make up to 60% of the Murrumbidgee and 33% of the Murray during periods of low rainfall.

The development of the scheme also had a significant impact on the population of the area. People were brought in from across the globe to assist as engineers and labourers. WWII refugees from across Europe, as well as men from the USA and Canada, Russia, East Africa and South America. Many of these people later settled in the area.

The work naturally required a development of the infrastructure in the area, so roads, schools, and whole towns were built. Towns like Cooma now have disproportionately high education levels for their sizes, due to the number of engineers who settled there.

Farming and changes in river flow have resulted in some environmental degradation. Possible links to algal blooms exist, as well as interruption of fish migration and Soil erosion due to increased farming.

aka: snowy scheme, snowy mountains scheme
stories heard at the RSL

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